Advanced Social Work Student Profile

Student uses higher education to rebuild her life

By Serpil Senelmis

Claire Rachel is a Senior Acute Psychiatric Social Worker and she’s deeply “passionate about health access equity”. For the past 18 years Ms Rachel has worked in the field of social work, helping vulnerable individuals to lead normal lives.

Early in her career Ms Rachel was a disability and youth worker. In one role she case managed a small group of prisoners who were nearing their release dates. She says her “focus was on supporting them to minimise their drug intake and reconstruct their lives in the community in a positive way.”

In her own life Ms Rachel has experienced a turbulent time as well – as a victim of Australia’s silent epidemic, Domestic Violence. Despite spending her entire career safeguarding individuals from harm, Ms Rachel found herself vulnerable for the first time. Jarring national statistics show that 1 in 3 women have experienced at least one incident of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15.

But Ms Rachel is not keeping a polite silence about her personal adversity any longer, and she attributes online study to her ability to rebuild her life. Currently studying the Master of Advanced Social Work, she says she “decided to return to studies after (she) had been able to leave an abusive relationship” and “it gave (her) focus, confidence and something to concentrate on.”

For the 46-year-old, her newfound confidence and her newfound knowledge has already made a noticeable difference in her working life. She says her studies have improved how she approaches her role within mental health, where she works in a large hospital network in Melbourne.

“I have been able to share papers. I have also been able to include my colleagues in discussions about topics being taught, which has assisted and supported our peer learning and support mechanism at my workplace.”

“This course has already enhanced my abilities to perform my job in a more multi-lens perspective and I have only completed three subjects so far,” she adds.

For Ms Rachel, the Master of Advanced Social Work was “a major investment, but well worth it.”

The lifelong learner has already completed two undergraduate and three post-graduate qualifications, as well as a TAFE certificate. This will be Ms Rachel’s fourth post-graduate degree and she considers the benefit of education invaluable.

One can never put a dollar value on education

“I believe that one can never put a dollar value on education. I also believe that education is the one thing which can never be taken away from you.”

Now happily single and a “mother to four pets,” Ms Rachel has thrown herself completely into her studies and so far, her biggest challenge has been “learning how to academically write again.”

Her favourite aspect of studying online has been, “the connection with fellow students as well as being taught by such great, recognised experts in the field.”

“I have gained a couple of excellent collegial links with other students and have been able to join in on other University of Melbourne opportunities,” she adds.

And when it comes to learning in an online environment, Ms Rachel has nothing but praise.

“The guest speakers, the constant interaction with tutorials – it has all been excellent.”

“The interaction with the academics has been supportive, real and not distant. They are excellent speakers with great ability to conduct sessions where everyone feels included. I have gained both personal and technical confidence,” she adds.

While this is Ms Rachel’s first attempt at online study, it was her “preferred choice of study” as it allows her to juggle her very busy work and private lives.

Choosing to complete her degree online not only gave Ms Rachel “freedom, self-control and choice,” but it’s also opened up other opportunities for her as well, such as the ability to explore other avenues at work.

“Online study has given me the chance to enhance my role, particularly in the areas of family violence and implementation of external programs into the program I work within. I’m able to review the current state, meet with stakeholders, keep data, review that data and ongoing implementations.”

Ms Rachel says she’d “highly recommend this course” to anyone thinking of enrolling. Her recommendation is simple: “Go for it!”

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